In early August, Jeff and I booked reservations to travel to Chicago on December 6th. It would be the second of our newly established annual Christmas on Michigan Ave get-a-way.
On November 9th I caught a bug which was diagnosed a week later as pneumonia. A week on antibiotics and I still had no energy and a cough that wouldn’t end.
The pneumonia made us rethink our trip agenda, simplifying to allow for a lot of rest time.
A week before our trip, Jeff booked a room close to LAX for the night before our scheduled departure in order to keep our travel days manageable.
We loaded up the car Tuesday morning and headed south to LA. As we neared Santa Barbara the haze over the ocean turned to smoke and we began to see the plumes billowing up from a wild fire still 30 minutes away.
“This probably isn’t good for me,” I said though a series of coughs and quickly covered my face with my sweater making a custom face mask. Jeff took the hanky he always has in his back pocket and did the same.
As we drove further south we were surprised by the lightness of the traffic as we sailed through a stretch of highway that is usually at a stand still. The sky grew darker and sun turned red, it reflected orange sparkles off the water.
When we passed the area that had been ablaze during the night, the sky became brown and black as new fires erupted. After we passed the view in the mirror resembled the severity of a mid-west tornado.
Then the winds hit. The 40 to 60 gusts that were predicted were now a reality. Palm trees swaying, sand and dust blowing across the highway. The ocean looked angry as if it was being churned up from below. Large pockets of mist and salt air circled over the top like a giant caldron.
Jeff was holding tightly to the stirring wheel as we felt the force of the winds. The road wound around the coast line forcing us in and out of the blowing sand, gusting winds and ocean spray. Rounding a bend we both saw the wall of brown heading toward us, as it hit the sound of stone, shells, and sand bounced across the hood of the car, slamming full force into the windshield, and sliding across the roof. There was silence for a second and then round two repeated the performance.
A man on a bike was stopped on the side of the road trying to protect his face from the on slot of nature.
We rounded two more bends and the sky began to lighted. The sun displayed hints of yellow once again. Reflecting off the windsheild we saw the new dents, cracks and divits the sand storm had created. Ten miles down the coast we again saw the ocean mist turning to smoke as another fire had broken out and the high winds carried the smoke over the ocean waters.
Pulling into the beautiful beach town of Manhatten Beach we were both tired and ready to breath fresh air. Lunch and a walk on the pier calmed the nerves but the smoke had irritated the annoying cough that had lingered the past four weeks.
Ready to settle in for the evening we made our way to the hotel, out quiet night was beginning at 4:00. A short time later we settled into a corner table in the bar. We talked about life and about relationships. I coughed and sipped on a hot toddy.
The next morning we woke to the lights of LA and the layer of smoke that blanketed the hills. It appeared that there was new plumes of smoke billowing up just east of the HOLLYWOOD sign.
I turned on the local new for updates from the fire we had driven through the day before. There were now six fires burning across the LA area, schools were closed and highways shut down.
Then it hit me, if Jeff had not persisted in making Tuesday nights reservations, we would have never made it to the airport this morning.
So, here’s the thing – this is the God I believe in.
He’s not wizard and we aren’t chess pieces on his chess board. He isn’t a God that stops all bad things from happening. He is a God that promises to walk with us. He is a God that has promised he knows what’s ahead and he’s made a straight path for us. He does this by gently calling.
He quietly directs.
He offers ideas, inspirations, opportunities.
He impresses on a husbands heart to make a reservation that will allow his wife, recovering from pneumonia, to have a more enjoyable trip. A week later, it is the only way to get them to the airport due to out-of-control raging wildfires.
This trip that was planned three months ago will take us a few short hours away from our family who has experienced a great loss this week. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this tragedy was predestined. But what I will confess with confidence is when we learn to listen to God’s quiet nudging, life flows in ways that gently carries us through the best and the worst of times and gets us to where we need to be even when we are unaware we need to be there.